The Hole in the Ground (2019)
★ / ★★★★
Here is a picture that takes an actual psychiatric disorder called Capgras Syndrome—the delusion that loved ones have been replaced by impostors—and attempts to construct a horror movie around it. It is not an original idea (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), but it is a curious and inspired choice nonetheless because the disorder is so creepy, it has great potential to scare or, at the very least, cause unrelenting unease. But “The Hole in the Ground,” written by Lee Cronin and Stephen Shields, directed by the former, is not only low on terror, it fails to expand upon ideas it introduces, like the massive hole in the middle of the forest located several yards away from a house that a mother and son move into.
Its best attraction is the atmosphere. There is a heavy gloom to the picture but not for a moment the look comes across as depressing. Notice not one person wears bright clothing. Sun shines but it is constantly hidden behind clouds. Smiles and laughter are rare. Happy chirping of birds cannot be heard despite the story being set on a countryside. There is no excitement in people’s eyes, whether it be the mother-son we follow to the friends and strangers they come across. Because of these carefully considered choices, we cannot help but get the feeling that there is something strange about this particular town. There are talks about the crazed woman (Kati Outinen) who wanders around looking like death. We meet her during the film’s opening sequence.
After the expected beats involving the son deciding to explore the sinister forest, Sarah (Seána Kerslake) begins to suspect that Chris (James Quinn Markey) is not really Chris. She notices small details about her son that seemed to change overnight. There are a number of these moments of realization but the screenplay proves reluctant to push the plot forward. Characters written smart would not only be quick to catch on, they would just as quickly find ways to do something about it. Not here. It is a shame because Kerslake and Markey share solid chemistry. I believed Kerslake as a beleaguered mother who is afraid that no one will believe her suspicions once vocalized and Markey as a possible evil impostor.
Notice I used the word “possible” because the material plays upon the idea that the horrific incidents are all happening in Sarah’s head. After all, these strange occurrences seem to start only after she begins to take prescription drugs in order to calm her anxiety. We are given several lines of dialogue that alludes to Sarah protecting her son from an abusive father and husband. Sarah has a scar on her forehead that acts up once in a while. The doctor asks her about it. She claims it is due to an accident. We know better. To me, this is the story’s Achilles’ heel. The supernatural phenomena is so potent, so thoroughly convincing, that the psychological angle feels more like a lame charade, a way to buy time in order to meet the standard ninety minutes.
A decision that enraged me is a technical choice—but one that proves to be so important. In the middle of the film, the mother decides to install a camera in the boy’s room in order to record what it is that he does there when she isn’t looking. Eventually, she gets a chance to see what it is in that recording. A neighbor gets a chance to see it, too. What he sees disturbs him. But not for one second do we get to see what was recorded. There is vague talk about the boy not being seen or that he’s not really there—a head-scratcher.
During the picture’s closing scene, the mother—again—records the boy… This time, we see the photos. But what does it actually tell us? Absolutely nothing. The reason is because we have nothing to compare against. We are made blind to it. It is like an experiment with results… but no control group. We cannot—and should not—make a conclusion.